River of the Stick Wavers – A Preview of my new book
SYNOPSIS: Following the premature death of her husband, Grace Irwin discovers that she no longer fits in to the world she knew. Always a dutiful daughter, wife, and mother, the widow is unmoored by her loneliness, fearing the slightest rapid will sweep her away. Grace travels to the French River in Northern Ontario, to grieve her loss and draw strength from the wild landscape. There she forms friendships with two fiercely independent women who challenge her to carve her own path in the world. As Grace begins to heal, her faith and courage are tested in unexpected ways. River of the Stick Wavers is a nuanced portrait of grief, a subtle challenge to expectations for how a woman should behave, and a testament to the transformative power of friendship.
Grace Irwin’s motor boat seemed to know its way to the camp on the French River. For that reason, she didn’t worry about veering off her path. Instead she enjoyed the feel of the river as it rustled beneath her. The cool May breeze seemed to carry away the stress of the past two months. It felt good to get away from the city. Away from the memories, and the pain of grieving.
An icy spray of water on her hand brought her back to the present. When she looked around she saw a carved wooden sign swinging in the breeze. Crow’s Nest, on Four Mile Island, was to be her home until the end of August. The camp was nestled in a copse of fir trees that had miraculously grown out of the rocky surface of the Pre-Cambrian Shield. As promised by the owners, the floating dock was already in the water awaiting her arrival.
Grace’s boat slid into the dock with a gentle bump. When she stepped onto the shifting dock, she had to fight to gain her balance. She secured the boat and made her way to the stable ground of land to look around. There was a bit of a sandy beach that had been brought in by the owners, but mostly there was nothing but granite all around. Pines trees grew out of the crevices and took root on top of the ground on both sides of the camp. And there seemed to be some kind of shed on one side. She’d check that out later. For now, she needed to carry her supplies, one by one, to the camp situated on a gentle rise.
When the final load had been retrieved she took a moment to sit on the bottom step of the deck to rest her head. She closed her eyes and became instantly aware of the many sounds that were indicative of camp life. The river, the birds, even the land beneath her feet seemed to hum. She opened her blue/grey eyes to gaze upon a landscape that she hoped would heal her shattered spirit. The sight energized her and gave her strength to pull herself up to go inside and begin preparations for her stay. She planned to remain at the camp until Labour Day Weekend. An unusually long time, she knew, but she had no reason to hurry home. Besides, she needed the time to figure out what to do with her life now that her husband was gone.
Grace’s running shoes echoed on the plank-wood floor as she made her way to the small kitchen. The miss-matched cupboards and ancient appliances looked serviceable, she decided. Once the kitchen was stocked she went into the only bedroom that looked out over the river. She knew the nights would be cold before the summer sun shifted more fully into their part of the hemisphere. That’s why she packed a flannelette nightgown, which she placed on the bed. She placed her book, journal, and her favourite pen on the rustic bedside table. Her meagre toiletries she laid out in the bathroom. She left her clothes in their suitcase for now. She’d take care of them later.
After a long day of preparation and travel, Grace was hungry. She made a sandwich and a cup of coffee and took it down to the river. She wanted to watch the sun go down before she turned in for the night.
On her way out the door, she grabbed an afghan off the chair by the window. She also remembered to leave the outside light on to guide her way back. Being alone as she was, she couldn’t afford to be stumbling around in the dark.
Grace sighed as she lowered herself into the Adirondack chair and contemplated her love for this ancient river. A river that once drained east toward Lake Nipissing, but for the tilting landscape, now drained west into Georgian Bay. She couldn’t quite explain her connection to this river and its people. It began as a child when her family visited each summer. All she knew was that whenever she was away from it, it called to her. Perhaps it was because she could be quiet here and hear her own voice, whereas in the city there were too many distractions. Or maybe it was because the river symbolized change. Even though the river had changed direction with the shifting landscape, it had survived. Just as she must now survive her own shifting landscape.
She watched a young couple paddle by. The sound of their laughter floated across the water. She waved but they were too wrapped up in each other to notice. She smiled to herself fondly. Even after all these years she still remembered what it felt like to be in love. But that all came to an abrupt end on the first day of spring when her husband died quite unexpectedly of a heart attack while walking across the university campus.
Grace was brought back to the present by a chill in the night air that even the afghan couldn’t keep from seeping into her bones. The pine trees swayed as the wind picked up, and dark clouds began to obscure the night sky.
With hunched shoulders, the lone figure ambled back to camp. Thunder rumbled and raindrops began to fall. She was glad she remembered to turn the porch light on so she could find her way. The rocks could get quite slippery when wet. When she turned to close the front door, the rain started to come down with a vengeance.
Thunder roared, and lightening shot through the sky lighting up the place on the bed where a frightened Grace lay huddled under the covers. She pulled the sheets over her head but that didn’t keep away the images of Charles that flashed through her mind. Like when Charles stayed up all night with Charles Jr. when he had the whooping cough, only to turn around and go to work the following morning. Or the time he was so patient with Jack for skipping school because he neglected to study for a math test. And then there was the memory of his cold lifeless body lying in a coffin. How could he be dead?
For weeks after his death Grace expected him to come walking through the front door; that it had all been a bad dream. But she was alone. She was tired of being alone; tired of being afraid. Most of all she was angry with Charles for dying and leaving her to carry on, totally unprepared to face life without him in it.
Another crack of thunder made the bed shudder, its occupant along with it. She had no control over the elements. What’s more, she had no control of whatever life sent her way, and that frightened her even more. The fear made her angry. Fear of what? Fear of God, fear of death, fear of not having control? All of the above. There was a restless yearning for the life that had been turned upside down by a sudden twist of fate. Her right leg began to move with quick little jerking motions under the sheet. A silent rage erupted from her throat that refused to be released. Eyes wide, she sat up in bed unable to breath. Without knowing what she was doing, Grace tossed the covers aside and rushed out into the stormy night, not caring if she was hit by lightning, perhaps even hoping for it so she wouldn’t have to hurt any more.
The hard rain stung as it plastered her nightgown to her body, but she was past caring. Grace railed at the heavens with both fists clenched repeating the same words over and over: “Why?” Emotions overwhelmed her with their intensity. Tears mingled with the rain as she slid to her knees on the cold, solid ground and allowed herself the full measure of her grief.
Grace had no idea how much time passed before she became aware of the cold. She trembled as the wind seeped past the flimsy barrier of her wet nightgown. She knew she had to move, but it was an effort to force her frozen limbs to submit to her will. Then over the driving rain and wind, she heard a sound coming from the river. She slowly clambered to her feet and faced the storm as it lashed her face and body. There it was again. She couldn’t be sure because it was broken by the wind, but it sounded like singing…